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Jewish student center vote by City Council delayed yet again

A final decision by the City Council, on whether to allow Hillel to build a 12,000-square-foot Jewish student center on a triangular parcel of land across from UCSD, was postponed indefinitely due to a bureaucratic snafu.

After audience members had waited more than three hours Sept. 27 to testify on Site 653, a 15,341-square-foot site owned by the city, the City Council voted 6-0 to delay a vote on the controversial land-use issue until a later time.

When that vote would come was not specified.

The council’s decision came after an error in the wording of a supplemental council docket item for Site 653 was pointed out, giving councilmembers the option to sell the property, instead of leasing it.

La Jolla community planners objected to a continuance.

“I think five years is adequate time to bring this project to council,” said Sherri Lightner, president of the La Jolla Shores Association. “It was heard by the Planning Commission in March. Nothing has substantively changed. This resolution was for a ground lease only. We need to get this done.”

Joanne Pearson, a La Jolla community planner, also objected.

“The sale of this parcel was not made public by Hillel,” she said. “The fact they dropped in a sale of this parcel at the last minute. ... I don’t find a good reason not to go forward on this. We feel this is a tactic that should not be allowed to derail (the vote).”

City Councilman Scott Peters representing La Jolla reluctantly supported the motion for granting a continuance.

“It’s unfortunate,” he said, “but I support a continuance rather than have this heard twice. The reason we can’t vote on it today is that the sale’s been noticed, but not the lease. That’s why we should vote for a continuance.”

Mayor pro tem Jim Madaffer agreed. “Based on what Mr. Peters has said, we may vote on one thing today, and if this goes through, we’ll have to vote on this exact same thing all over again.”

City Councilman Brian Maienschein believed there were legal issues with Site 653 that could render the hearing invalid.

“One thing that gives me pause,” said Maienschein, “whichever side does not prevail now, has the legal grounds to get this turned around. It would bother me if this whole thing was just a useless exercise.”

Asked to defend her late request for a continuance, Hillel attorney Lynne Heidel said that the Site 653 sale and the land-use items - finding of no significant environmental consequences for the project - are inextricably intertwined.

“These issues should be taken at one time,” she said. “Questions have been raised about the environmental documents. And there’s no reference to the sale or lease of the property in any of the environmental documents that are docketed. This could be a matter that goes to litigation.”

Assistant City Attorney Karen Heumann was unsure about whether to continue the matter. “We have legal questions in terms of the environmental documents. There’s no way, at this time, that I can provide a legal answer to these questions about the environmental documents. We’ve got potential legal questions from the applicant.”

Will Griffith from the city’s real estate department urged the council to grant a continuance, raising the specter of litigation.

“Our biggest concern is the opponents have sued us at every step along the way,” he said. “That has cost city resources. If we have issues now before we have a hearing, we know we’re going to have to defend them in court later.”

Site 653 neighbor and UCSD professor Jim Moore spoke against the continuance, stating it was disproportionately harmful to the project’s opponents.

“I’m not paid to be down here,” Moore said. “My wife teaches. I teach. We had to get a baby sitter to take care of our kids so we could be down here, whereas they can get busloads of students to come here. There’s a differential impact to the homeowners most affected by this that are in opposition.”

City Councilwoman Donna Frye amended the motion for continuance to make it more palatable to audience members who would be put out by the unexpected delay.

“This is very confusing and very unfortunate for all the people who are here,” she said. “The next hearing on this item should be out in the community, and it should be in the evening. We should, at a minimum, continue this item until we find a location in La Jolla or north University City that is convenient to the residents so people don’t have to spend another day down here.”